Saturday, May 21, 2011

Multiple sewing machines

Jodi commented yesterday on the little bio that runs in the right-hand column of the blog.  "I see you have seven sewing machines   -- any of the them a featherweight, by any chance? Just wondering as I dopily passed up a good deal recently and am still kicking myself!"

No Jodi, there isn't a featherweight.  Even though featherweights may live in the hearts of sewists everywhere, like Santa Claus, none of them lives in my house.

I did learn to sew on a featherweight, but my mom traded it in on a fancier Singer when I was about ten, and that's the machine I used to upgrade from doll clothes to people clothes.  We were so proud of that Singer because it had an accessory that allowed you to do faux zigzag stitching for buttonholes.  The needle didn't move sideways, but this little accessory grabbed onto the fabric and moved it sideways, as well as forward and back, to make the buttonhole.  (Kind of like free-motion quilting, except you have to be the accessory.)

Trading it in -- that's the key word in my reminiscence.  In those days of course we traded in an old machine upon buying a new one.  Why on earth would you need two?  Why on earth would you want to keep that old outdated featherweight?  Sure enough, after I inherited mom's aforementioned Singer with the faux zigzag, I eventually traded it in on one with a real zigzag, and then traded that one in on my first Bernina.

But when it came time to upgrade to a new Bernina, the lady at the fabric store gave me the best advice I've ever received in terms of equipment.  When I inquired about a trade-in, she said don't do it!  You won't get that much money for it, and it's always better to have a spare machine on hand.  And boy, was she right! 

When the machine has to go into the shop, you're not left unplugged for a week or two or three.  When you go to a workshop, just grab your other machine and go -- you don't have to undo your entire sewing setup (which in my case involves crawling under the table to untwist twist ties galore and unthread the cords from their serpentine paths).  When a friend comes over for a play day, she doesn't have to bring her own machine.  When your granddaughter learns to sew, set her up permanently with her very own machine so you can quilt side-by-side.

Zoe with HER machine

Here's my current roster of machines:
  • my main machine, a Bernina 440, which is securely affixed to my sewing table with a lot of twist ties
  • my backup machine, a Bernina 1630, which I would have never abandoned except for its nasty habit of irregular tension so that the back of the quilting wasn't up to show standards, but its straight stitch is just fine and it likes to go to workshops with me
  • Zoe's machine, a Bernina 1020, which I never would have abandoned except it had no knee lift or automatic needle-down feature, and how can you be a serious quilter without those doodads?
  • my Babylock serger, not used so much now that I have given up garment sewing, but every now and then it comes out of hiding to do a good deed
  • my late mother-in-law's sewing machine, an old clunky Singer portable, which I have never taken out of its case, but after she died and we cleaned out her apartment, I knew the machine needed to go to a loving retirement home, not to the dump
  • an old Bernina 800 that I bought from somebody at a Nancy Crow workshop several years ago and almost immediately gave me buyer's remorse because it had lost its work tray and isn't very usable in its current condition, but someday I may find a tray on eBay or something, or sell it to somebody else
  • a Juki 600, my newest machine, graciously presented to me by the Juki Company after I taught workshops in Japan last year where the participants used these models, and I fell in love with the huge work tray; this is the one I'm going to use on my next huge quilting project.
However, nothing from my mom.  Nothing from my grandmother, the greatest sewing wizard of our family (she had a treadle Singer, which my grandfather later electrified for her).  And no featherweight. 


  1. I was a one-machine sewer for over four decades. A couple years ago, I knew it was time to purchase a second machine. I test drove many, but none of the newer models impressed me enough to make a purchase. The shop manager recommended that I hold on to my Bernina 1260 for its great stitch quality and ability to maintain its value. Since the 1260 is rarely traded in, I decided to bid on a duplicate on eBay. Besides great peace of mind, I now have two identical, dependable machines with great stitch quality and interchangeable accessories. That was a very good decision!

  2. Hi Kathleen, thanks for answering my question! Very interesting! My oldest sister's name is Kathleen, too, but I call her Kate. I love your "art with a needle!" It's gorgeous! And your granddaughter is a cutie! Wonderful that you're teaching her to sew. I'm a fairly new grandma to my grandson, Ezra, who is six months old, and I'm loving it. Maybe he'll want to learn to sew someday, too! Take care and thanks again for your fun, kind answer!

  3. Sandy -- I think you were brilliant to buy an identical machine. I spent this afternoon getting packed up for a weeklong workshop and had to remember which bobbins went with the machine I chose to pack, which table fits it, which foot pedal works. With three Berninas, which you might think would make things simpler, there are different systems.

    I have often wondered why manufacturers do this -- if there's no reward for brand loyalty (I mean all the specialized feet I bought for my previous machine no longer fit on my new machine) then why should I stick with Bernina???

    Jodi -- I'm a Kathleen/Kathy, but earlier this year we welcomed a Kate (not short for anything) into our family. Maybe I can teach her to sew too, in seven or eight years!!